Sorry, Connie: National Democrats Not Feeling Saltonstall Bid

Democrats in Washington are starting to move on from Rep. Bart Stupak’s retirement today, and setting their sights on keeping the Michigan first district seat Stupak held for the Democrats for 18 years. The party has offered up a number of names as potential replacements for Stupak today — but none of them is ex-Charlevoix County commissioner Connie Saltonstall.

Party officials say they expect more Democrats to enter the race, and they’re making no mention of the progressive, pro-choice Saltonstall who was running against Stupak in the primary from the left with the support of several national progressive organizations. Saltonstall is unfazed by the lack of attention from the party and told TPMDC this evening she’s as committed as ever to winning the nomination.The new list of potential Democratic candidates floating around town from the party establishment includes State Rep. Gary McDowell, state Sen. Mike Prusi, state Rep. Steve Lindberg, state Rep. Mike Lahti and state Rep. Judy Nerhat.

If there’s a frontrunner among that group, it’s proably Lahti. Stupak stood with him — and mentioned he’d do a “good job” — when he delivered his retirement speech today.

Lahti is seen by progressives at least as conservative as Stupak, if not more. Like the retiring representative, Lahti is anti-abortion. Democrats in Washington say they can win in Stupak’s district despite what they call its “conservative, Catholic profile.” They point to numerous Democratic local elected officials in the district and the performance of past statewide candidates as evidence that not only Democrats named Stupak can win there. (Both of Michigan’s Democratic senators and the state’s Democratic governor won in the Upper Peninsula, which comprises most of Stupak’s district.)

So if Lahti takes up the establishment Democratic mantle in the race, Saltonstall’s supporters will find themselves in essentially the same position they’re in now — running from the left in a district most say leans to the right. Saltonstall’s campaign says it expects the national groups who back her — including Planned Parenthood and Democracy for America — to stay on board, giving her the means to run the insurgent campaign she says will tap into progressive frustration with a anti-abortion Democratic nominee.

Saltonstall told me this evening that hasn’t heard from the party establishment yet, and suggested she doesn’t expect to. She said she’s comfortable running an anti-establishment campaign, and has the organization in place to mount a serious bid.

“I’m really disappointed with the way the media is saying this is a conservative district,” she said, pointing to the 2008 result which showed President Obama won the district with 50% of the vote (John McCain got 48%.) “I think the reason stupak won with so many votes is because he was getting votes from Republicans. So if the Republicans are going to vote for someone else now, we can get the Democratic votes.”

Saltonstall says she can still tap into the progressive frustration that fueled her campaign before Stupak dropped out.

“The things that [Stupak] did haven’t gone away,” she told me. “They’re still there.”

“The people still want what they want,” she added. “And I’m going to give it to them.”